Archives for posts with tag: anxiety

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Didn’t get to university? Failure!

Single didn’t make it to number 1? LO-SER!

Not thin? Well you must be fat, then!

Not made a million by your 30s? Deadbeat!

Since when did the stakes get so high?

I’m pretty sure I recall a time when artists would give interviews about how amazing it was to have a single in the Top 40. Now they are seen as old news or non-starters if their single doesn’t come straight in at number 1, and are frequently dropped by labels who expect nothing less than the top spot. I went on holiday last summer and Lady Gaga was a massive star, I got back and she was a played out Madonna copyist hasbeen because her comeback single happened not to sell 97 million copies. OK, admittedly no one sells singles anymore and a stoat that looks good in denim shorts and has a dubstep influenced dancefloor banger can make it to number one, but even so…

Life is getting more all-or-nothing all the time. Even Masterchef is at it with its military-crisis cooking music and weepy tragedy playouts for those who don’t make it through. Calm down, dear, it’s only a crème brule with cinder toffee shavings.

It’s the telly equivalent of wildly overdramatic, self pitying posts on social media (‘No guacamole left at Sainsburys *weeps*’). A medium which, we are frequently told, is making us all compare ourselves to one another, become wildly solipsistic and sob into our lattes that our lives are so much less cool and exciting than everyone else’s. Personally I’m delighted to vicariously live a life of partying and festival attendance of my online contacts who are still doing so. They do the hard work so I don’t have to.

For kids growing up with online oversharing as the norm, it may be a different matter though. I don’t feel I have anything to prove online, but when I think about how much I would have wanted to when I was 14, well… major teen trauma, you can just imagine it. JUST LOOK AT ALL THE THINGS I AM PROVING ABOUT ME!

University is another absolutist one. Governments have queued up to tell kids that it’s university or nuthin’ if you want to make something of your life. Doubtless this was intended as a rallying cry to go forth to the towers of academia and start getting those respectable middle class jobs. But I suspect too often it is read by young people as the wagging finger of failure, and a further reason to write themselves off if they don’t get that uni place. Hence people, usually the least advantaged students, ending up at barrel scraping universities with nothing but a massive debt and then a job they could have done after leaving school. Their middle class peers, of course, often face massive debt and several years of unpaid work (possibly after a post graduate qualification). The stakes are high, got to take what you can get, and competition for those internships is hot. Sure, they’re supposed to pay interns now, but you can be sure plenty of employers are managing to ignore this and continue to lock out those kids who can’t afford to work for nothing in a field they might actually like.

Then there’s body image. Putting on any weight at all is pretty universally described or implied to be ‘getting fat’. There’s no inbetween from the unfathomably desirable ‘skinny’ and the dreaded ‘fat’. Girls who would never dream of pointing at women the same size as themselves and yelling ‘Lardarse!’ will nonetheless apply it to their own bodies because they don’t match vital stats with Cara Delvinge and don’t have the surely‐actually‐physically‐impossible ‘thigh gap’. And as I have mentioned before, there’s now a race to the bottom with ever smaller clothes sizes that no one even stocked 10 years ago that are now becoming the size you ‘should’ be. Yes… if you are 9 years old.

Ages are arbitrarily thrown at us by which time we should have done this, that or the other, especially when it comes to childbirth (women) and job title (men). And we are told to LOOK at this fucking hipster who has made his first million by the age of 17 by doing something spectacularly product‐free and meta which is by some bizarre means bringing in money.

I think most of us can put this crap in proportion. We can say ‘Well that’s nice dear, but at the end of the day I like cake, not being responsible for making anyone redundant, and not entering Masterchef’; but you have to wonder to what pitch of hysteria those unfortunate enough to grow up in the shouty maelstrom of social media are going to be wound? Hopefully someone will teach them to chill out and laugh at amusing pictures of cats like every other happily deadbeat loser.

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eggGoogle, the lazy way’s person to start a blog post. But if you search “damages children” it gives you a pretty good idea of how prevalent is the idea that many things ‘damage’ children.

Parental separation, child care, attachment parenting, leaving babies to cry, never leaving babies to cry, too many after school activities, not enough stimulation, free range parenting , working mothers, stay at home mothers, tiger mothers, hang on where are the fathers here? Geez it’s not surprising that young people today are the horrors they’re portrayed as with so much stuff ‘damaging’ them.

The nature of this damage is often unclear. Stuff is bandied about regarding ‘self esteem’ or ‘stress hormones’ but a lot of time what ‘damage’ spells is: ‘Mothers this is your fault, why have you perpetuated/not stopped this damage that is happening to your children RIGHT NOW’.

Parental guilt is journalistic catnip, and is yet another thing constantly thrust at parents, most often mothers, until they start believing it because we all feel guilty sometimes don’t we? About how little time we spend with our kids? About how we’re buying their love with material goods? About how our relationship with their other parent didn’t work out?

I’ve never seen, though, anyone talk of another way of looking at this – of understanding and accepting  that we probably won’t bring up our children to reach their maximum possible potential. This is really what media talk of ‘damaging children’ amounts to – all those working mums, or attachment parents or single parents or just somewhat flakey parents are not ruining their children’s lives. The Media and The Internet and Advertising are not going to rot their brains. Because kids are resilient. Humans are resilient. If we weren’t, we’d all be in a state of mental fugue by the time we were 12. We can cope with the fact that Mummy often said she was busy, or Dad shouted sometimes or once Mummy didn’t give us a cuddle once when we were feeling sad, all other things being basically OK.

And yes, the way we parent will most likely have some negative impacts on our children. We may bring up kids to be too averse to conflict, or bad at taking criticism, or too uncompromising or with a short temper. But you know what? Despite that they will most likely still enjoy friendships, satisfying and lasting relationships, educational achievements and decent jobs. Your mum and dad do fuck you up. But only slightly.

Middle class parents are portrayed as agonising over the slightest decision: ‘What if seven is too late to start classes in Mandarin?  He’ll end up cleaning toilets for a living and HATING me’, ‘If I don’t do a good princess castle cake for her birthday no one will be her friend and I’ll have ruined her entire childhood’.  The flip-side implication being, I feel, that those parents who can’t stretch to the cost of cello lessons are assumed immune to this sort of thing because they ‘don’t care about education’ and think good parenting consists of shouting lots at their numerous uncouth offspring and keeping them quiet with expensive gadgets bought with the immense wealth of benefit payments.

Classism aside (mostly as that’s a whole other post) I feel if you are worrying, even a little bit, about whether you’re doing the right thing, you are probably doing the right-enough thing. If you find parenting hard and the decisions a bit worrisome, that’s fine. If you’re being crushed by guilt that your every decision could send their future lives into a swan dive, I’d say ‘Calm down, you’re only their parent’.

The media likes to present research on profound neglect, such as the heartbreaking lack of care suffered by Romanian orphans, as though it is some kind of continuum on which your children may be found if you’re not careful. If, for example, you go to work before a certain age, or don’t constantly hold in-depth conversations with them or don’t have a family meal every day. Not only is this insulting to the genuine sufferings of the appallingly neglected, it’s also insulting to humans’ general ability to be the parents that their kids need them to be in the vast majority of cases.

It also rankles with me that privileged parents are encouraged to cluck over minutiae when plenty of children endure experiences rather more testing than not being selected for the school debating team – persistent poverty, imprisoned parents, being a carer to a family member, childhood illness – and nonetheless come through with flying ‘being a sorted human being’ colours.

A lot of parents need to forgive themselves more, stop looking into the crystal ball of doom and appreciate that, actually, their kids, right now, are basically OK and are very likely going to stay that way. So don’t start saving up for a psychiatrist just yet, and if they do need one later, swallow your pride and accept it might not be all about you.